The evidence supporting early identification and intervention to address the needs of young children with developmental delays is clear and unequivocal. Early intervention can have a profound impact on the quality of life for children and their families; the key to success is early screening, detection and treatment. Absent these vital services, children frequently enter school requiring more intensive and costly support, and generally never catch up to their peers.
Nationally, Easter Seals estimates that of the five million children under age six at risk for developmental delay, only about one million are identified and receive needed early intervention services prior to beginning school. Often, only those with the highest need, who meet Individuals with Disabilities Education Act criteria (a 25% delay in 2 or more areas or a 50% delay in one area), receive services through their local school system. In many states, children whose needs are identified, but fall below these criteria; receive nothing. The majority of children who fall just below the IDEA cutoff criteria for services still desperately need intervention; and absent treatment, they fall further and further behind.
Early diagnosis is crucial, but identification without meaningful access to services is an empty effort
The Solution: Sprouts Child Development Initiative
Sprouts Child Development’s model is focused on ensuring the needs of each child and their family are met, long term. We are unique in that our program does not rely on government criteria or funding to see a child. The point of entry into the Sprouts program is the online Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) screening. Based upon screening results, if there are any concerns, the Sprouts team of highly skilled developmental clinicians is available to then provide the next level of assessment, and uses those results to work closely with the family and their physician to find the best option for services in the community. Because Sprouts refers to the community for services, our assessment is unbiased and uninfluenced by any potential incentive to “identify” problems that we would then receive funding to treat. Increasingly, private physicians who recognize our objectivity are sending their patients directly to Sprouts for the more in-depth developmental assessment and referral for services, when they have concerns about a child.
Additionally, Sprouts continually educates the broader community about the importance of early screening and intervention, by making the ASQ screening link open to the general public. We’re building a larger long-term public health capacity by developing new partnerships to provide screenings which currently includes work with case managers, nurse-family partnerships, home visiting programs, churches, public and private schools, therapeutic court programs, childcare centers, physicians’ offices, and many others. The Sprouts Development website and social media sites provide targeted and actionable child development education and resources for families and caregivers. We offer resources to help anyone who has, or works with, a young child – identify and learn what developmental skills and milestones a child should be mastering at certain times, and corresponding activities they can engage in with the child to promote those skills. For example, our Early Literacy videos focus on helping parents and caregivers recognize everyday early childhood actions and behaviors that are tied to early literacy. It isn’t hard to understand why, before viewing our videos, a parent may not understand that the fine motor skills developed by an eight-month-old picking up a Cheerio are setting the stage for later writing.
Our goal is to help as many children and families as possible, receive the earliest care and support they need; having the greatest positive impact on their healthy development. It starts with a model to ensure first, that all children have access to screening; then a comprehensive system to provide whatever level of care is needed – from family engagement, education and support, to specialized care and coordination.